Primary 'enthusiasm gap' points to November GOP turnout advantage

Republican candidates enter the final two months of the campaign with an unprecedented 10-point lead on the generic congressional ballot and a categorical edge in what gets people to the polls: enthusiasm.
 
The GOP has turned out 3 million more voters than Democrats during the primary season so far — reversing the 3 million-vote advantage Democrats enjoyed in 2006, the last midterm year.
 

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The party not holding the White House normally gains seats in Congress during non-presidential election years, but primary turnout to date points to an extensive “enthusiasm gap” that analysts say should have Democrats worried.
 
Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, which conducts a variety of state- and national-level surveys, pointed to the upstart Tea Party movement as one motivating factor for Republicans, and noted there is no similar force for Democrats.  
 
“It’s a unifying force for many Republican voters, and it’s generating excitement for voters who would normally be midterm drop-offs,” Jensen said. “In particular, we’re also seeing a lack of excitement among moderate Democrats. They are very important to Democrats in any election, yet they’re one of the least enthusiastic groups this year.”
 
Democrats do have one important advantage: bigger bank accounts. As of July 31, records showed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had $10.8 million on hand, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) had $22.4 million and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had $35.8 million — a combined $69 million, and more than their Republican counterparts in all three categories.

The Republican National Committee had $5.3 million on hand, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) had $21.2 million and the National Republican Congressional Committee had $22.1 million, for $48.6 million overall.
 
Brandi Hoffine, a spokeswoman for the DNC, said the party will spend no less than $50 million on voter-turnout efforts this fall at the national and state levels — money that Republicans don’t have.

Still, an extensive study being circulated among top Republicans shows that in 15 of 16 closed primaries this year, the percentage of GOP voters who turned out was higher than the corresponding percentage of Democratic ones. The only exception was the May 11 West Virginia primary, where both parties’ turnout was the same, at 25 percent.
 
That study doesn’t include the recent Florida primary, where Republicans eclipsed Democrats on turnout: 787,122 registered Republicans cast ballots compared to only 489,384 Democrats, in a state that has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
 
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said even with some primaries still to be held, national totals show Republican voters have already vastly outperformed Democrats — 15.5 million Republican votes have been cast this year, compared to nearly 12.1 million Democratic votes.
 
“Poll after poll confirms what massive GOP primary turnouts in states across the country have shown us, which is that there is a Republican wave growing as we move toward November,” Walsh said. “The only ones who don’t seem to get that are the Democrats in Washington who have arrogantly ignored the voices and concerns of the voters while they’ve been busy maxing out the government credit card and failing to create jobs.”
 
Deirdre Murphy, DSCC spokeswoman, pointed to her own statistics showing that Democratic turnout has been surprisingly high in many places.
 
In Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, for example, Murphy noted that Democrats edged Republicans in total turnout. In Arkansas, Democratic turnout constituted 70 percent of total turnout for the tight race between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and state Lt. Gov. Bill Halter this summer. In Kentucky, Democratic voters constituted 56 percent of total turnout.
 
Hoffine, with the DNC, also pointed to surprises like Rep. Mark Critz’s (D-Pa.) special-election win over Tea Party candidate Tim Burns in May for the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). Pre-election polls indicated GOP voters were heavily motivated to support Burns — in a district GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won in 2008.
 
“Republicans claimed they had the enthusiasm advantage, but our ground game was superior and those predictions weren’t reflective of reality,” she said. “That’s telling of a larger point, which is that these polls don’t take into account the ground game each party will mount. With our unprecedented investment in these midterm elections, we know we’ll have the necessary resources to turn out our supporters when it counts.”
 
Yet Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University and an expert on turnout, said Democrats are battling some severe headwinds, noting that the party is coming off an election in 2008 that saw record numbers of black and younger voters motivated to turn out.
 
“That’s not going to be replicated,” Gans said. “Republicans do have an edge in turnout and intensity. There are a lot of issues on which liberal support is weak, and even if they don’t vote for Republicans, some of them simply won’t show up. Then you have a problem with independents — Obama won them in 2008, but he’s trailing after them now.”
  
A recent Gallup poll showed the GOP holding a 10-point advantage, 51 to 41, when voters were asked to choose between a generic Democratic or Republican candidate. That is the largest lead since Gallup started polling the generic ballot, in 1942. Democrats had a six-point lead in the same poll just a month ago.